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Charged drug offenders entitled to speedy trial

In addition to proving their charges, law enforcement must assure the constitutional protections of persons facing drug charges. A federal court in Mississippi issued a ruling on the right to a speedy trial that could impact defendants in Michigan.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals restored a defendant's lawsuit against Choctaw County and its sheriff who held her for 96 days without having her appear before a judge. The court ruled that jailed defendants must appear promptly before a judge.

The defendant was arrested for a traffic offense in 2012. The Sheriff continued to hold held her after service of a drug indictment. She claimed that, during her incarceration, she was compelled to turn over custody of her daughter to her mother.

A public defender was appointed to represent her when she finally appeared in court. Bail was quickly granted. She was ultimately acquitted of the drug charges after an undercover video did not show that she was engaged in a crime.

The District Court dismissed her civil suit and ruled that the defendant had no right to a speedy because indictment by a grand jury for drug offenses. The Circuit Court reversed this ruling.

It held that protracted incarceration without judicial oversight and the ability to assert constitutional rights was unfair, alien to the nation's laws and violates the presumption of innocence of those charged with crimes. The court cited the harm to family relationships and the threat of job loss during imprisonment for excessive time.

The Court also soundly rejected arguments that sheriff was just running a hotel and assignment of fault to the state's court circuit's two judges and prosecutor. Arrests occurring between the two court sessions did not justify keeping defendants in limbo without access to their rights, according to the Court.

Mississippi issued new rules of criminal procedure in July requiring defendants who are arrested before indictment must appear before a judge within two business days. Anyone arrested after indictment must have their arraignment within 30 days.

Anyone charged with a drug crime should seek representation from a defense attorney to help assure that they can assert their constitutional rights. An attorney can help assure that they can fully defend against the serious consequences of these charges.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Appeals court: Mississippi woman's 96 days in jail 'unfair'," Jeff Amy, Oct. 26, 2017

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